If you were to take David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, and a Luchador, and lock them in a room surrounded by Sci-Fi movies, comics, anime, manga, and Andy Warhol paintings, all viewed lovingly yet through jade colored glasses, you might get something close to the inside of Goichi Suda's mind.
Goichi Suda (born January 2, 1968), or Suda51 as he's better known ["Goichi" is composed of the Japanese numbers for five ("go") and one ("ichi")], is one of the most Mind Screwing game designers out there.
Suda was interested in working with video game design since an early age, but was in the beginning only able to get part-time gigs on the periphery of the industry. During this time he also worked at several other jobs to support himself, most notably as an undertaker. He first broke into full-time game development when he was able land a job in 1993 with the developer and publisher Human Entertainment as director and scenario writer for Super Fire Pro Wrestling III. Suda would stay with Human Entertainment until early 1998, with his last project with the company being Moonlight Syndrome. At this point, dissatisfaction with available money bonuses and fears that Human wasn't in a good place financially (indeed, Human would declare bankruptcy a little under two years later), prompted Suda to break off from the company. Taking some of the staff who had worked with him as he left, he instead founded a new development company, Grasshopper Manufacture, in March 1998.
Suda has since remained the head of Grasshopper Manufacture, and has become known for his trademark style of making games which create a unique, if slightly/extremely unsettling, experience. Common themes in his games include: assassins, hotels, briefcases, wrestling (Japanese puroresu, Mexican lucha libre, and American pro wrestling), severed heads in paper bags, the Moon, and random pop culture references, especially towards Punk subculture. He frequently collaborates with music composers Masafumi Takada and Akira Yamaoka, and writer Masahii Ooka.
Games written and directed by Suda51:
- Super Fire Pro Wrestling 3 Final Bout (1993)
- Fire Pro Wrestling Special (1994)
- Fire Pro Wrestling World: Champion Road Beyond DLC
- Twilight Syndrome: Search and Investigation (1996)
- Moonlight Syndrome (1997)
- The Silver Case (1999)
- Flower, Sun and Rain (2001)
- Killer7 (2005)
- The 25th Ward: The Silver Case (2005)
- Blood+: One Night Kiss (2006)
- Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked (2006)
- No More Heroes note (2007)
- Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse (2008) (JP: Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen)
- Shadows of the Damned (2011)
- Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)
- Hotel Barcelona (2024 - in collaboration with Swery65)
With many more games worked on or produced.
Non-video game works:
- SDATCHER (audio drama prequel to Snatcher)
- Japan Animator Expo (episode "Tokio of the Moon's Shadow")
- Kurayami Dance (a manga based on Kurayami, Suda's original vision for Shadows of the Damned)
- Red Blue And Green (an Interquel set between The 25th Ward and No More Heroes III. It later received a manga adaptation.)
Frequently used tropes are:
- Arc Number:
- The number "51", or some variation thereof, appears in just about every game Suda has a hand in making.
- Games with episodic stories always start their numbering at zero, not one.
- Art Shift: At least once per game; usually much more. Sometimes for an entire chapter (or at least its cutscenes).
- Author Appeal:
- Luchadores. He even occasionally asks for fans to do wrestling moves on certain people.
- References to British punk bands. Chief among them being The Smiths and Joy Division, and the title "No More Heroes" is a reference to the song and/or album by The Stranglers.
- Purportedly too frightened by the supernatural forces in Twilight Syndrome to use them himself, he downplayed them and made the sequel he had more directorial control over Moonlight Syndrome more of a human-based horror experience.
- References to Batman. This usually comes in the way of Animal Motifs, and/or sometimes more overt name-dropping.
- Bait-and-Switch Boss: Usually at least once per game, if it's an action game in the first place.
- Big Bad: Consistently subverted; the character set up as the main antagonist is rarely behind everything, and by the time you've reached the game's ending, you're probably going to have a hard time pointing to who the "real villain" is. Sometimes it's you, the playable character. Sometimes it's you, the player. That said, a few of his later games have concrete main antagonists.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: His games are characterized by No Fourth Wall. Even his most serious games have plenty of Leaning on the Fourth Wall.
- Black-and-Gray Morality: The majority of his protagonists are either assassins or (at least slightly trigger-happy) detectives; he only very rarely has you control a truly "good" character.
- Creator Thumbprint:
- Camera shots of just the characters' faces, in various styles and hardly sharing the same "physical position". Also close-ups of other objects in a cutscene.
- Severed heads, sometimes in brown paper bags. And sometimes not quite dead.
- Bizzare dialogue that doesn't completely chain together. Including bouts of hostility from characters to other characters, the player, or both.
- An obscure detail: odd names for buildings. Ever heard of the Cauliflower railroad satellite building, or the Typhoon apartments? What about the Celtic apartment building?
- Death is Cheap: A running theme. Character death means very little most of the time, as characters will frequently reincarnate in some form or another as needed. On the other hand, when a story doesn't need certain characters anymore, they'll be killed off permanently or simply stop being followed by the plot.
- Deconstructor Fleet: His games go out of their way to deconstruct (and also reconstruct) video game tropes, social tropes, and everything else.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: A recurring theme in his games is that they examine the differing values between Japan and the West/U.S., which he started doing as soon as his games started being published overseas.
- Establishing Character Moment: A creator variant. The second game he ever worked on, Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special, featured a Sudden Downer Ending, with the main character being Driven to Suicide after realizing that he's lost everything in the pursuit of his dream. Quite the way to make a name for yourself.
- Gainax Ending: Expected for a developer who specializes in surreal Mind Screw, but Suda gets special points in this category, as his endings tend to go all-out in ways the rest of the game hasn't.
- Game Within a Game: Sometimes as a plot point more than a mini-game.
- Goroawase Number: The origin of his nickname Suda51: "Goichi" is pronounced like "5-1."
- The Hero Dies: His main protagonists seldom survive their stories. Some of them even die when they show up in another one of his games if they didn't perish then. Travis Touchdown is a noteworthy exception, surviving until his (current) Grand Finale's ending.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: In The Silver Case, they're Cases and Reports. In Flower, Sun, and Rain, they're Requests. And in killer7, they're Targets. And in all three of these games, they start at the number 0.
- Magical Realism: Most of his works are very much this. The ultimate message of the plots will usually have to do more with the characters, society and the nature of the work as a game, but said plots are punctuated by fantastical concepts such as invisible exploding monster terrorists or what may or may not be a "Groundhog Day" Loop.
- Masked Luchador: He's a huge fan, and it shows. Nearly every game has a luchador, or at least a reference to one.
- Mind Screw: His penchant for unsettling gamers with plot twists, shoving in vignettes note or Non Sequiturs, and throwing in random plot threads (such as political commentary) create quite a...unique experience.
- Obfuscating Insanity: Nothing he does is meaningless or random; carefully examine any of his works, and you'll find that there's quite a lot of deliberate connections and meanings both literal and symbolic behind his strange decisions. Despite this, he presents it all in a deliberately unintuitive manner, especially for first-time players.
- One-Steve Limit: Usually played straight in any individual game, but subverted between games, often intentionally and to provoke speculation upon what connections two different games might have (or just because he thought a name was really cool). For example, Sumio Kodai, Sumio Mondo and Mondo Zappa; or Travis Bell and Travis Touchdown.
- Plot Twist: Oftentimes in a way more akin to trolling, rather than dramatic manipulation. Though there can be that, too.
- Rule of Cool: One of the constants in his games: awesome things happen because they're awesome. And they are usually never brought up again.
- Rule of Symbolism/World of Symbolism: A sliding scale between the two.
- Shared Universe:
- "Kill the Past", although the games it consists of are a matter of debate within the fandom. Often referred to as a Thematic Series due to the fact that the only games from it available in English for many years were both barely connected at all; now that more of them are translated, the literal connections are more apparent. Several other Grasshopper games also have minor connections to them. Travis Strikes Again establishes the 'verse clearly, with characters from No More Heroes, the Silver Case games, killer7, Shadows of the Damned (as an in-world video game), Killer is Dead, and Let It Die crossing paths with each other.
- No More Heroes III was indeed pitched as taking cues from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Suda describing the enemies as "Thanos-level." It also introduces Fire Pro Wrestling and Daemon X Machina to the "Kill the Past" universe.
- Shout-Out: Spot the references to songs from the 80s! (Among many, many other things.)
- Signature Style: Suda's games usually employ close-ups of people's faces during cutscenes. There are also many recurring objects and symbols, including: briefcases, Luchadors, the Moon, and toilets.
- The Stinger: You can pretty much always expect one if he's directing; sometimes entire chapters of it, which can then sometimes necessitate an additional credits sequence. (Which then has its own stinger, naturally.)
- This Loser Is You: Most famously Travis Touchdown, but other loser characters are designed to represent the player (and Suda himself).
- Trolling Creator: He occasionally likes to tease his fanbase, which tends to take it in stride. Probably the biggest example was introducing the New Game Plus Expo online showcase by talking about the games he hasn't had the time to finish while the first gameplay footage of the highly anticipated No More Heroes III played behind him, obstructing it completely. And a couple weeks earlier, he had posted a photo of actual gameplay taken from his phone... with a figure of Mr. Meeseeks right in front of the screen, with the caption being the character's famous Catchphrase. A Twitter user summed it up best.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: A common structure for his games is to alternate between two different protagonists. Sometimes done with a "story points" system where you can choose whether to alternate between chapters or to play through an entire protagonist's route at your discretion.
- Undertaker: Believe it or not, Suda originally started as an undertaker before he became a game designer. During his tenure in this business, he found that many people handled the deaths of their loved ones differently, which in turn influenced his games' tendencies to examine death and killing in video games.
- Weird Moon: The Moon is usually used for transition and chapter end screens, often with varying colors.
- Write What You Know: Before making video games, Suda worked in a morgue, and would later draw from the experience of being around death and seeing how people cope with death in his writing, notably in the Kill The Past series.
- You Bastard!: One of the many deconstructions in his games are calling out players on their bloodlust and love of violence.
- "Punk's Not Dead"